• The contribution of giving circle members was important for us by building relationships with important people and government officers, it helped out advocacy and networking efforts become visible.

    Suman Dasgupta Muktangan
    An NGO supported by the Dasra Giving Circles, India

  • We got the chance to interact with other donors and discuss issues in a group, as opposed to doing it alone.

    Luis Miranda
    Luis is a private equity partners.
    He and his wife are members of Dasra Giving Circles, India

  • We felt that joining a giving circle gave us the opportunity to participate in a bigger project without shouldering all the day-to-day management support, and like the club deals we do commercially, the circle helped us build relationships with other funders.

    Susanne Grossmann
    Dalyan Foundation, Switzerland, a member of Dasra Giving Circles, India

  • When New Day Asia (giving circle) members visited our offices in Phnom Penh it was an opportunity to communicate face-to-face about the project's successes and challenges. They asked questions and provided insightful inputs to help me better execute our operations.

    Seila Samleang
    APLE Executive Director Cambodia

  • The young generation in Japan realised they could no longer bask in the promise of economic growth and job security after the downturn — many shifted their life goals towards making contributions to the society.

    Ken Ito
    Member of Social Ventures Partners Tokyo

  • The concept of venture philanthropy is interesting to many business people, who have been chequebook philanthropists but want to be more involved in giving, who want to know how their gifts are spent.

    Akila Krishankumar
    Chair of Bangalore Chapter of SVP India

  • Opportunity to get involved with non-profits in a much more meaningful way, way beyond writing a cheque and not knowing what happened to the money.

    Catherina Toh
    Member of SVP Melbourne

  • A great way to make significant contributions to the community, increase public awareness of local issues and organisations, and inspire philanthropic giving in Fremantle through an exciting new format.

    Dylan Smith
    CEO of Fremantle Foundation, partner of Impact 100 Freemantle

Philanthropy — personal, collective and institutional — has a long history in the U.S. and while collective acts of giving through mutual societies and fraternities have long existed, the modern form of giving circle appears to have developed from the mid 1990s onwards. The rapid growth of giving circles in the world’s largest philanthropic market has attracted a number of academic studies since 2002. Much of this research has been carried out by Prof Angela Eikenberry (University of Nebraska, Omaha) and Jessica Bearman (an independent consultant commissioned by the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers). Our understanding of giving circles has been informed by research in the U.S., where the large number of circles makes it possible to draw conclusions and see patterns. More recently researchers are studying giving circles in other parts of the world.

The presence of informal and ‘invisible’ giving circles makes it impossible to know the exact number operating in the U.S. but the number of American giving circles is thought to be at least 500. Eikenberry, an academic and giving circle member, admits that ‘giving circles are hard to define’, are flexible in form and nature but typically exhibit five major characteristics:

  • Pool and Collectively Give Away Resources
  • Provide Social Opportunities
  • Engage members
  • Maintain Independence

Five characteristics of American Giving Circles

Pool and Collectively Give Away Resources

  • Members may or may not contribute equal amounts.
  • 40% required no fee or a non-mandatory fee.
  • Multiple giving levels attract more diverse individuals.
  • Stratified membership fees unlikely to raise issues of power, influence and privilege where donations are anonymous.
  • Funds may be raised from outside the membership.
  • Educate members
  • Informal and formal education about philanthropy is key.
  • Informal education takes place through the activities of running a giving circle.
  • Formal education takes place through workshops, seminars and guest speakers, although only usually in the larger, more formalised circles.
  • Formal and informal education about community issues also takes place.

Provide Social Opportunities

  • For some circles, social interaction is a primary focus, ‘to build a community of women who enjoy working together’ (Everychild Foundation).
  • For women’s groups in particular, a driving force is ‘social with a purpose’.

Engage members

  • Especially in less formal groups, volunteers conduct all aspects of the circle’s administration.
  • Even in groups with paid staff support, they are largely driven by volunteers.
  • In some circles (usually the larger more formal ones) there is also direct engagement with the non-profit organisations being supported.

Maintain Independence

  • Giving circles are typically not tied to any one charity, with members deciding where funds should be distributed, in contrast to a donor circle that would be organised by an individual non-profit as a fundraising tool.
  • An ambiguous type of giving circle is that associated with university foundations, where distribution is limited exclusively to the institution, but the circle has flexibility on deciding on individual project.

---------- (Adapted from Eikenberry (2009), from a dataset of up to 188 giving circles in 2005 and later reports and studies done by others.) ----------

Types of Giving Circle

Eikenberry suggests three basic types of giving circle, noting that any individual circle may be a blend any of the three 'ideal' types. In 'Small Groups' leadership is often shared and decision-making highly distributed. There is little emphasis on engagement with the non-profits being supported by the group and the circles value social and educational activities. 'Loose Networks' comprise an active volunteer core group with a larger body of individuals affiliated with the circle but not necessarily identifying as formal members. Eikenberry suggests that such networks are particularly attractive to women as members, who value the opportunity for 'doing good' in busy lives. 'Formal Organisations' are often professionally staffed, have a board or core group structure and relatively large memberships. Decisions about grantmaking are structured through investment committees and engagement between members and non-profits is encouraged.

The Hosting of Giving Circles

Research by Bearman in 2008 found that 68 percent of giving circles were hosted by another organisation — more than half of these hosts were community foundations. Other hosts include public foundations, grantmaker associations, non-profits, educational and health institutions. The function of a host was at a minimum to provide treasury services (accepting, holding and disbursing grants to beneficiaries on behalf of a circle). In a jurisdiction such as the U.S., where there are strong incentives for tax-efficient giving, a giving circle must hold the requisite tax status itself or affiliate with a host that provides such a fiscal service. Other hosts added value by publicising the circle’s activity and helping with identification of grantee organisations.

The Impact of Giving Circles on their Members

Models of collective philanthropy in the US stress a dual purpose: to provide resources to non-profits in a thoughtful and intelligent way; and to educate members through the giving process, by learning from each other and others. The survey of 341 members of 26 giving circles by Eikenberry and Bearman (2009) measure how membership of giving circles influenced giving, volunteering and civic engagement. They found that individuals who had joined a giving circle:

Gave more in total charitable donations.

Gave more strategically and more broadly, especially to organisations supporting women and girls and ethnic/minority groups (groups often neglected by mainstream organised philanthropy).

Tended to be more civically engaged, although it is not certain that the giving circle causes this.

Had increased knowledge and awareness about philanthropy, non-profit organisations and the problems in their communities.

European Giving Circles

Very little is published on the volume and diversity of giving circles in Europe. Unpublished research by Eikenberry and Breeze suggests there may be up to 80 giving circles in U.K. and Ireland, far more than previously reported. The Funding Network (TFN) has several chapters in the U.K. and has started to replicate internationally, including in Asia. Young Philanthropy and The Bread Tin are new initiatives that focus on developing philanthropy skills amongst young professionals in the City of London (the core business district) who are mentored by more experienced philanthropists.